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A grim milestone for the UK epidemic

March 31, 2020 - 2:49pm

A significant, although grim, milestone in the story of this pandemic was passed this morning.

Data newly released by the ONS shows that the week ending March 20th was the first week since the crisis began that the overall level of deaths in England and Wales was higher than normal — albeit very slightly so at 10,645 compared to an average week 12 figure of 10,573.

Source: Office for National Statistics

In every previous week in 2020 since the middle of January when the first news broke about coronavirus, deaths have been below average. This is likely to be due to a combination of normal variables such as weather and the effect of increased hand washing (which was first advised at the start of February) and social distancing, which have lowered transmission of seasonal flu, motor traffic accidents and other regular causes of death.

As the pandemic progresses to its projected peak, you’d expect this trend to increase dramatically.

With so much uncertainty around the science and how to measure the progress of this pandemic — and disagreement about which deaths should be counted as genuinely caused by the virus — looking at the overall death figures is a useful crude metric to fall back on. It shows how we are doing as a society overall: is the combination of the pandemic and the measures we are taking to fight it leading to more, or fewer, people dying than normal?

So far in this crisis, the answer has happily been ‘fewer’ — but that changed with this morning’s data. We’ll be keeping a close eye on this metric in the coming weeks.

Freddie Sayers is the Editor-in-Chief & CEO of UnHerd. He was previously Editor-in-Chief of YouGov, and founder of PoliticsHome.


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Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
4 years ago

I predicted a few weeks ago that the number of deaths would actually fall during the Corona-Crisis due to fewer car accidents etc. I still believe that I may be proved correct. However, I have also said that business collapses and financial ruination may cause more deaths than the virus itself. A sheriff in Idaho (or it could have be Iowa) reported eight or nine suicides in just one week in just one county. He attributed this to the sudden collapse in economic activity.

Ray Hall
Ray Hall
4 years ago

A useful metric. Please keep us posted .
Thank you.

Daniel Smallwood
Daniel Smallwood
4 years ago

Yes, but the graph shows that in Weeks 1&2, apparently before the arrival of Covid-19, the death rate was also above the average. And life went on unhindered. So at the very least the graph suggests that the figures for Week 12 are not as significant as he makes out. We do not know the causes of all the deaths in Week 12, or weeks 1&2. So I’m thinking that Freddie Sayers might have re-read his article, realised it meant nothing, and put it in the round file. Unless his agenda is suggestio falsi and suppressio veri.